Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Excerpt #20 from Adrift on an Ice Pan by Sir Wilfred Grenfell

Excerpt #20 from Adrift on an Ice Pan by Wilfred Thomasen Grenfell

(N.B. It was in 1908 that Grenfell, a medical missionary in northern Newfoundland was traveling by dog team to treat a patient, became stranded on an ice pan and came close to perishing. The following excerpt is from Grenfell's account of this adventure.)


All the time I had been driving along I knew that there was one man on
that coast who had a good spy-glass. He tells me he instantly got up
in the midst of his supper, on hearing the news, and hurried over the
cliffs to the lookout, carrying his trusty spy-glass with him.
Immediately, dark as it was, he saw that without any doubt there was a
man out on the ice. Indeed, he saw me wave my hands every now and
again towards the shore. By a very easy process of reasoning on so
uninhabited a shore, he at once knew who it was, though some of the
men argued that it must be some one else. Little had I thought, as
night was closing in, that away on that snowy hilltop lay a man with a
telescope patiently searching those miles of ice for _me_. Hastily
they rushed back to the village and at once went down to try to launch
a boat, but that proved to be impossible. Miles of ice lay between
them and me, the heavy sea was hurling great blocks on the landwash,
and night was already falling, the wind blowing hard on shore.

The whole village was aroused, and messengers were despatched at once
along the coast, and lookouts told off to all the favorable points,
so that while I considered myself a laughing-stock, bowing with my
flag to those unresponsive cliffs, there were really many eyes
watching me. One man told me that with his glass he distinctly saw me
waving the shirt flag. There was little slumber that night in the
villages, and even the men told me there were few dry eyes, as they
thought of the impossibility of saving me from perishing. We are not
given to weeping overmuch on this shore, but there are tears that do a
man honor.

Before daybreak this fine volunteer crew had been gotten together. The
boat, with such a force behind it of will power, would, I believe,
have gone through anything. And, after seeing the heavy breakers
through which we were guided, loaded with their heavy ice
battering-rams, when at last we ran through the harbor-mouth with the
boat on our return, I knew well what wives and children had been
thinking of when they saw their loved ones put out. Only two years ago
I remember a fisherman's wife watching her husband and three sons take
out a boat to bring in a stranger that was showing flags for a pilot.
But the boat and its occupants have not yet come back.

To be continued.


The above excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

The unabridged audio edition, narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence, is available from Rattling Books.